Here’s the thing about Kriner Cash’s vision for the Buffalo School District: It may require some extra planning and maybe even additional revenue, but Cash is the man the School Board chose as the district’s new superintendent. The board needs to let him implement his plans, as much as it reasonably can. There’s no point in hiring a talented fixer, then hobbling his ability to produce.
Those plans took on more definitive shape Monday with his announcement of a six-point “New Educational Bargain.” Among Cash’s proposals are a reduction in class sizes and the opening of new high schools, which would require hiring more staff. Just the move to lower class sizes is estimated to cost as much as $39 million. He also wants to fashion a new relationship with teachers, improve early education, create strong community schools and more.
There’s no doubt it will be a challenge, but no improvement is possible in Buffalo’s struggling schools without changing the status quo. That’s the approach School Board members need to take as they build the next school year’s budget.
To do that, they will need to know exactly how much state aid they will receive. While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed an additional $18.9 million for the district, the exact number is unlikely to be known before April 1, when the state budget is due. But they need to make sensible assumptions and get to work.
The district is also contending with a $17 million deficit, driven in part by increases in salaries and employee health insurance. It also needs to find a way to continue paying for programs and positions added this year. Those expenses, including additional physical education teachers, have thus far been paid with savings and contingency funds. So it will be a stretch, and accomplishing it in a fiscally responsible way may require some hard decisions and a firm commitment by the state.
But if now is not the time to go all in, when would it be? It would be useful to combine this effort with a fair but affordable new contract for Buffalo’s teachers, but that’s like waiting for Godot – the guest who never arrives.
The work of reaching a new pact should continue, because teachers have been without a contract for more than a decade and students’ prospects for success will only be improved by a workforce that is newly committed and fully on board with a new program. But this work can’t wait for that, either. Buffalo’s students need action now, not on the day when, maybe, the district and union can agree on a new contract.
This is the time. The state has a new education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who has flatly declared her intention to make a difference in the lives of Buffalo students. In Cash, the district has a new superintendent whose commitment to improving education here is not in doubt. New laws give both of them more leeway to produce change, though the changes are sure to be litigated.
The timing will never be perfect, and the need for improvement is urgent and unrelenting. Today’s circumstances offer the best hope for the city’s school district and its underserved students. The School Board needs to evaluate Cash’s proposals carefully and look for ways to put them into action.